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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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SIMRAT [S]:  Why don’t you begin by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about your background?

ELENA [E]:  My name is Elena Pereira, I’m stationed in Bangalore. I was a fashion designer before, at the beginning of my design practice. But I slowly moved away from fashion design when I began to find that there was more narrative in objects, which I think say more about us than just fabric. That train of thought led me to begin to de-construct existing artefacts and then reconstruct them again. Kind of as if I was always looking for a forgotten or an unseen story, which may be hidden in the material I was looking at or even in its decay.

S: Can you speak a little bit about where your project was when you wrote your application and proposal for this residency, and also a little bit about what you’ve been doing here and what shape your project is taking now?

E: Initially I was inspired by skin, and especially in looking at it as a component of fashion. It’s strange because skin can be a fashion statement and so I was interested in looking at the way skin is portrayed in fashion. What I find weird is that it’s always this perfect thing, gleaming and almost artificial looking. One of the other things I am also interested in is the natural and the man-made and in this project I was looking at lightness of skin along with the relationship that we have all begun to develop with artificial and chemical products. I mean, we’re at a stage where almost none of the natural ingredients that are written on a product are really actually in the product. So if they say there is x amount of  haldi, it’s not actually haldi in there. And the strange things is that we still somewhere know that the ingredient was once a remedy or a natural potion but now it’s all just basically chemical. So that is kind of the discussion that I started with.

S: There was also that point where you were looking at bathrooms?

E: Yes. I wanted to look inside people bathrooms to kind of get a conversation between the public and the private going. So I kind of rang people’s doorbells and went in with my analogue camera. But that didn’t turn out as I expected it to because all the pictures that I took inside didn’t come out properly after the negatives were processed. The ultimate failure of that made me think a little and I realized that documenting people’s bathrooms wasn’t a strain of thought I wanted to continue with anyway. But what I did realize, though, was that there were some analogies between bathing and dyeing, so my project is still inspired in some ways by the bathrooms I saw.

S: Alright, so what is it that you’re thinking of showing on the Open Day?

E: Since this is an artist residency program, I didn’t want to have a very “final” looking work on display and instead I want  to show a little bit the process of what I have been doing, which is essentially dyeing and printing. So yeah, now what I’m doing is creating garments which I will use as a canvas on the Open Day itself.

S: Canvas in what way? Can you explain a little bit more about what you mean by that?

E: The garment as a canvas [in place of the skin] because we always use it to show our identity. So it has a transformative nature. I’m going to directly use garments on products [or products on garments] and, through my installation, the garments will keep changing.

S: So I know this because we’ve had conversations about your piece before, but just to clarify for the record — this is going to be a performance essentially?

E: I don’t know if I’d call it a performance or if I’d call it a process.

S: Alright. So, let me think about  how best to say this. So say if I were to call it a performance, it would be a performance that is sort of … Well, ok, let’s say it this way: performance is the medium through which you are showing the process of what you’ve been doing? So instead of, for example, drawing the process through sketches or photographing it, you felt instead that you would rather “demonstrate” what you’ve been doing in your studio.

E: The only thing is… Why I don’t want to call it a performance is because I don’t know what will happen. I want to call it The Nature of the Unexpected. Because nature is unexpected.  You never know what happens. It’s very, yeah. It depends on the water, it depends on the material. So, I’m not forcing it to be a certain way.

S: You mentioned in one of the earlier meetings we had that when you experimented with dyeing or printing with red apples, the cloth turned green. Right? Is that what you mean when you say that you don’t really know what the result is going to be?

E: Yes.

S: But you feel that performance needs to be a fully defined thing?

E: Somewhat. I think in performance the narrative is more delineated. Usually, a performance is something you’ve practiced a lot.

S: Perhaps maybe then this is more of an experiment? So instead of live performance, you would be doing a live experiment?

E: Ya.

S: And the performance/experiment — is it going to be interactive in any way? Or is it going to be just you?

E: Hmm. That’s a good question. I haven’t really thought about viewer interaction.

S: And you mentioned earlier that that you’re going to be dyeing the garments in the performance/experiment?

E: I would actually say bathe them in a way, because dyeing is when the emulsion is in the water. And here, the emulsion will be in the clothes. The tubs will refer to the skin: there’s three tubs and since the skin has three layers, I thought it’d might work nicely. One tub will be cold water and the others something else, I’m not sure yet.

S: You don’t have to describe the whole thing if you don’t want to! But essentially the garment will have some natural emulsions or pigments on it and it will then be interacting with water in the tub and that is the process that you’re trying to unfold through a live experiment?

E: The thing is that I don’t want to call it a performance because I don’t want people to be there and to sort of be like “OK, start,” so it is not fixed in that way. But maybe I will invite viewers to join me while I work. I don’t know what’s going to happen but it’ll be quite busy!

Conversation has always been one of the most central outputs of the residency process. Often, artist works and trajectories are deeply influenced and shaped by conversations that residents have with each other, with the Khoj staff and with the many other visitors that stop by Khoj Studios. While it is sadly not possible to reproduce all the informal conversations that happen over tea, during cigarette breaks, across the dinner table and in the resident’s studios,  we still think it valuable to attempt to bring some of residency discussions out of the Khoj building and into a more public domain. So, I sat down for formal one-on-ones with each artist and will reproduce shortened renderings of some of the things we talked about in a series of blog posts. In doing so, we hope to provide some context for the works you will see on the residency’s Open Day.